When people find out that I’m a psychologist, they often ask me questions about how to be more “happy.” As an I/O Psychologist, specifically, I try to find ways to make employees more happy at work. But what really makes a person happy?
Here are 10 surprising truths about the pursuit of happiness:
1. Once your income is above the poverty level, more money does not correlate with more happiness.a
2. Activities that make people happy in small doses – such as shopping, good food and making money – do not lead to fulfillment in the long term, indicating that these have quickly diminishing returns.b
3. People who express gratitude on a regular basis have better physical health, more optimism, make more progress toward goals, and help others more.c
4. Trying to make yourself happy can actually lead to unhappiness.d
5. People who witness others perform good deeds experience an emotion called ‘elevation’ and this motivates them to perform their own good deeds.e
6. A positive attitude (optimism) can protect people from mental and physical illness.f
7. People who are optimistic or happy have better performance in work, school and sports, are less depressed, have fewer physical health problems, and have better relationships with other people. Further, optimism can be measured and it can be learned.g
8. People who report more positive emotions in young adulthood live longer and healthier lives.h
9. What does NOT make people happier?
(4) Sunny weather
What DOES make people happier?i
(3) Religious Faith
10. Proven interventions that can change your happiness level:j
(1) Performing acts of altruism and kindness
(2) Discovering your strengths and finding new ways to use them
(3) Expressing gratitude
(4) Giving to others – it adds meaning to your life
a Diener, E. & Diener, C. (1996). Most people are happy. Psychological Science, 3, 181-85.
b Myers, D.G. (2000). The funds, friends, and faith of happy people. American Psychologist, 55, 56-67.
c Emmons, R. A. & Crumpler, C.A. (2000). Gratitude as a human strength: Appraising the Evidence. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 19, 56-69.
d Schwartz, B., Ward, A., Monterosso, J., Lyubomirsky, S., White, K., & Lehman, D.R. (2002) .Maximizing versus satisfying: Happiness is a matter of choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1178-1197.
e Haidt, J. (2000). The Positive Emotion of Elevation, Prevention & Treatment, 3.
f Taylor, S.E., Kemeny, M.E., Reed, G.M., Bower, J.E. & Gruenwald, T.L. (2000). Psychological resources, positive illusions, and health. American Psychologist, 55, 99-109.
g Lyubomirsky, S., King, L.A. & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.
h Danner, D., Snowdon, D, & Friesen, W. (2001). Positive emotion in early life and longevity: findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804-813.
i Peterson, C. (2006). Primer in Positive Psychology. New York Oxford University Press.
j Cameron, K.S., Dutton, J.E., Quinn, R.E. (2003). Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.